Family Accuses Muslim of Kidnapping Daughter
Heba Nabil Narouz
From Advocates For The Persecuted
November 2005 -- Risking the loss of family honor, an Egyptian Christian couple last week went public with their daughter's sudden disappearance under questionable circumstances.
After highlighting 21-year-old Heba Nabil Narouz Ghali in “missing persons” reports in the newspaper and over national television on November 10 and 11, the Ghali family has identified a Muslim man whom they are accusing of kidnapping their daughter seven weeks ago.
A November 10 article in the weekly El-Wafd newspaper stated that the young woman was last seen on September 28 leaving work at a local Hyper supermarket in Sheikh Zayid, a suburb of Cairo.
The Ghali family also released their daughter's picture and a request for information in a November 11 broadcast on TV Channel Three.
The missing woman's father, Nabil Narouz Ghali, said that when his daughter failed to return from work by 10 p.m. on September 28, the family telephoned Hyper supermarket, where their daughter had been working since February.
Supermarket staff said that the Christian woman had left work as usual on the 8:30 p.m. service bus.
Conflicting Stories at the Store
When the Ghalis went to the supermarket the next day, however, they were told she had resigned. Moreover, her co-workers and supervisor gave them conflicting reports about when she had resigned.
Heba Ghali's co-workers told them that she gave notice two days prior and claimed that their supervisor would not be at the supermarket until 5 p.m. that evening. But inside the store, the couple came face to face with the supervisor, who stated that their daughter had resigned only the day before.
“While we were there, one of my daughter's friends, who claimed to be a Christian, came up to me and told me 'Your daughter has embraced Islam,'” Nabil Ghali said. “Later we found out that this girl was not really a Christian.”
Pursuing this claim, Nabil Ghali contacted his parish priest. The clergyman checked with a colleague involved in government-required counseling sessions for Christians considering conversion to Islam.
But neither of the Coptic clerics could learn anything about Heba Ghali's supposed conversion.
After the required 24-hour waiting period, Nabil Ghali reported his daughter's disappearance to police at the October Sixth city station two days after she went missing.
The officer on duty first called an informer in, Sheik Zayid, who claimed that Heba Ghali had often been seen in the company of veiled Muslim friends. He then refused to file a kidnapping report and instead reported the girl missing.
The policeman also visited the Hyper supermarket and returned with the missing woman's work resignation. The document, contained neither the required signature nor stamp of the supermarket manager.
Although the Ghali family protested that the handwriting on the resignation was not the same as that on Heba Ghali's work application, the police refused to have the papers examined by a handwriting expert.
“It was not actually necessary to check with a handwriting expert,” the Ghali family's lawyer, Athanasius William, commented. “It's obvious the handwriting on the two documents is very different.”
She had a good relationship with the whole family, Nabil Ghali said. “She wouldn't have run away from us, and she never mentioned to us that she had any Muslim friends.”
With her father facing health problems, her younger brother still in school and her older sister married, Heba Ghali was one of the main breadwinners in her family.
Possible Kidnapper Identified
The Ghali family showed a handwritten letter that they received five days after their daughter's disappearance.
Full of insults and obscenities, the letter stated that their daughter had had an affair with a man named Mahmoud Mustafa Ali and had eloped with him. It included Ali's cellular and landline telephone numbers and urged the family to reclaim their daughter.
Nabil Ghali called Ali, who reportedly admitted that he had met Heba while delivering products to the supermarket where she worked. But he claimed to have no knowledge of the missing woman's whereabouts.
Tracing Ali's address through the telephone company, Nabil Ghali enlisted the help of a Muslim friend and went to visit Ali on November 10.
The two men did not find Ali at home but were told by his former wife that Heba Ghali had converted to Islam and married him. The wife claimed to have divorced Ali before he and his new bride moved to Upper Egypt, Nabil Ghali said.
The next day, a source in the police force told Ghali that his daughter had converted to Islam at Cairo's Al-Azhar Islamic center.
Trying to Uncover the Truth
“The girl is over 21. She has the right to marry and convert without her family's permission,” William, the family's lawyer, said. “But they do have a right to confirm that the conversion and marriage were done legally and of their daughter's free will.”
“No one supports me, not the priest, not anyone,” Nabil Ghali said through teary eyes. “I just want my daughter back. She's a good girl.”
On November 13, the Ghali family acquired a copy of Heba Ghali's conversion certificate, dated September 28, through a contact in the police force. They plan to check with several priests involved in pre-conversion counseling sessions to confirm the document's authenticity.
Lawyer William also plans to file a kidnapping report against Ali next week.
“This means that, legally, the police have to produce the girl and bring her to see her family,” he commented.
But William was quick to point out that even if the Ghali family does get to see their daughter, they may never uncover the truth of her disappearance.
“Such meetings always take place in the police station, and the girl is usually veiled and surrounded by men and police officers. [Of all similar situations in the past] I only know of one where the girl had the courage to say that she was taken by force.”
Coercion or Complicity?
Reports of kidnappings and the forced conversion of Christian girls are common among Egypt's Coptic community.
Some Christian girls romanced by young Muslim men voluntarily leave their families and convert to Islam in order to escape poverty and unhappy family situations.
But last week, the U.S. government admitted that “there have been credible reports that government authorities have failed to sufficiently cooperate with Christian families seeking to regain custody of their daughters.” The comment came in the State Department's annual International Religious Freedom Report on Egypt.
Egypt's security police, the State Security Investigation (SSI), typically claims to be protecting young women in such situations from their birth families, whom it says might kill the converted daughter in order to “save the family's honor.”
Without police cooperation, families find it difficult to verify the motives for each conversion.
In a similar situation in May, 20-year-old Coptic Christian Marianna Attallah disappeared while on a work errand in El-Fayoum. SSI officials told her fiancé and father that she had converted to Islam and reportedly warned them to stop searching for her.